No One Wants to Be “That Feminist”

embarrassed

I went to a Christian educators’ convention this past week. This particular convention by no means colored outside the lines of fundamentalism. I expected the hot wife reference, the session against progressive Christianity, and the exclusively white male platform aged 45-70.

But I didn’t expect the pastor to find his son’s sexist attitudes toward women drivers funny enough to go on and on about before hundreds of Christians. And I certainly didn’t anticipate the passing joke about police brutality. Police brutality. As a joke. From a Christian pastor.

With all the conference’s rules and stipulations (like playing only piano music or requiring grown women to wear skirts), it went out of the way to not offend any of the Christian present. And of course, it’s good to keep the peace. I grumbled about the skirts-only rule (and, not going to lie, considered wearing my shortest skirt just to make a point), but you know, whatever. It’s no big deal.

So with all this crossing of Ts, it came across like the pastor deemed this group of Christians, too sensitive to handle women’s pants or a guitar, an appropriate audience for his tasteless comments about women and violence. It came across like it’s a more crucial Christians issue for women to wear maxi skirts than to stand against injustice — like the pastor didn’t feel like he’d get backlash for saying what he said, like he thought he’d get laugh lines, like he thought yeah, of course, here’s a safe Christian place where people will actually find these things funny.

I’m not surprised for trivial scruples to outweigh issues of justice once again, but it still shocks me every time.

I ranted about it, of course. I felt strong emotions about it. When I came to that last box on the exit survey, the one where the unsuspecting event planners ask for comments, I wrote out some suggestions and complaints:

Also, about the keynote speakers. I would appreciate hearing from speakers with an actual education background. I’d love to see women up on the platform too as speakers or as worship leaders. Women make up a huge part of Christian education, so I’d love to hear a woman’s perspective!

Lastly, with all respect, I thought the pastor’s passing joke about police brutality tasteless. I’m shocked a Christian pastor made such a comment while our Christian siblings in the black community are suffering.

Then I sat there, staring at the words. I re-read them three times.

Am I that feminist? The one who makes a huge stink about trivial things? The wet blanket to every joke? The one who finds oppression and injustice in every single thing alive?

Am I being disrespectful? Am I being annoying? Am I just sounding angry and whiny like the worst of female stereotypes?

Should I try to complain about the sexist joke too, or is that pulling at straws?

Will anybody read this?

Will they Google my name and find out I’m an egalitarian and revoke my teaching license and force me out of a job?

Is this really that big of a deal?

I don’t want to sound annoying.

I should add something positive at the end.

So I did. I said something about “all in all, I thought the conference was professionally put together, and I learned lots of great things.”

And I stared at it some more.

Am I being too conciliatory? Too nice? Does this matter? Should I just exit out of this survey and go back to listening to another forty-five minute sermon?

But I hit enter.

The same thing happened again on Facebook. Someone posted something sexist, and I sat there agonizing. Speak up? Stay silent? Private message? Public comment? Sarcasm? Sincerity? Add a caveat about how you still like them? Let them have it?

I worry about how to present these causes of justice. Many Christians are callous to real oppression and injustice. When they see sexism or racism, they don’t recognize it. They might even defend it. They start ranting about liberals and feminists and their trigger warnings.

I don’t want to be “that feminist,” not just because I hate being written off, but because I don’t want my causes, the causes that move God’s heart, to be written off as overreactions. I don’t want racism and sexism and religious callousness to be written off as feminism’s imaginary friends.

I don’t want my rhetoric to contribute to conservatives digging in their heels and plugging their ears and pointing their fingers, when we need more hands, feet, and listening ears fighting against the exploitation and degradation of others.

But all the same, it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating that I feel like I can’t call attention to perceived injustice and know all Christians will jump to careful consideration and repentance. It’s frustrating that I feel like Christians are more concerned with music and dress than justice. It’s frustrating that I feel fear and embarrassment over calling attention to tasteless comments.

I don’t think this is a feminist overreaction. I think this is a real problem in our church today.

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17 thoughts on “No One Wants to Be “That Feminist”

  1. H

    I hate the jokes about women drivers :/
    I have an uncle who is possibly the worst driver in our family, yet he insists on driving even when his wife (who is an extremely careful driver) is with him. She gets so frustrated at how he drives, and she scolds him, and I’m just wondering why she doesn’t insist that *she* drive.
    Even back when I was still fully into patriarchy, I hated the jokes my brother made about women drivers. Guess what? He’s gotten a ticket for speeding, and I haven’t.

    Basically, what I think is that the feeling of entitlement makes people less responsible. They think more about what they deserve than about what they ought to do.

    As for BLM, I’m not so sure that there is widespread police brutality. I don’t wan to debate it or anything, and I certainly don’t want to downplay real instances of injustice. I just think there are a lot of things that need to be dealt with on both sides, and the main thing is that people need to come to Christ. Disorder, cruelty, murder, and hatred, are all products of sin and Satan; all policemen are not heroes. All black men are not thugs. But they’re all sinners and need the Gospel. That’s my take on it.

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    • Bailey Steger

      Honestly, I was surprised that people made jokes about women drivers. Neither men nor women seem to be any worse drivers to me. I wonder if that entitlement that you’re speaking of not only makes them more careless but also blinds them from seeing reality clearly!

      Surely we can agree, whatever our personal feelings about widespread police brutality, that *joking* about violence of any sort is not befitting a pastor!! :)

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    • Allison Caylor

      I appreciate your comment, H, on the topic of “police brutality.” As ignorant as I admittedly am on the broad scope of minority issues, my impression tends to be that there is more hype than actual injustice going on, but nevertheless it is so important to keep in mind that there is sin and a desperate need of Christ’s goodness on both sides. I needed to be reminded of that. Thank you!

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  2. korie

    I can relate to that second-guessing and not wanting to cause issues. I think it’s kind of ironic because staying passive (not saying something) is exactly what their comments produce… What they want their comments to produce. When I don’t say something, I feel like that mindset is succeeding. I usually speak up, except on Facebook. It’s too inflammatory, too impersonal. I’m glad you mentioned something . Was the conference ACSI? I attended that conference for the past years when I was teaching!

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    • Bailey Steger

      There’s been LOTS of “I’m posting my opinion and DON’T SAY ANYTHING TO THE CONTRARY” on both sides of multiple issues. Very aggravating. I don’t comment on Facebook when it’s that antagonistic and close-minded, and I think there’s a lot of wisdom in refraining from joining those online conversations at all. I’m much better at writing my thoughts down than talking in person. I need to work on talking about these controversial issues!!

      The conference was not ACSI (but that sounds familiar). I’m sure multiple conferences share the same problematic views and tendencies.

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  3. Rebekah

    Wow. It saddens me to hear about comments like that at a conference. And good for you, for being honest and up-front on the survey. I hope there were others like you.

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  4. Bethany C

    I feel ya. Patriarchalism and gender essentialism produce an inescapable paradigm where resistance will always brand you with every negative name you could want. It doesn’t matter how polite, Christ-centered, or innoffensive your disagreement is, in my opinion–there will always be a significant portion of ‘the leadership’ that will paint you as evil. When I was first beginning to speak out against patriarchy, I left some very polite comments on the blog of a pastor who was radically anti-feminist. I said what I believed at the time, which was that I wasn’t a feminist and I was a very staunch Christian, but I believed that patriarchy demeaned women and wasn’t mandated by the Bible. He responded by saying that I ‘was leading others to Hell’ and told me that I wouldn’t be allowed to comment if I disagreed with patriarchy again, so as to protect the other Christians reading. This wasn’t just some random commenter either: this was the pastor of a Presbyterian church in the Mid-west, with a largeish blog following.

    I have found it somewhat freeing to embrace the labels, honestly, in a sort of ironic sense. I haven’t really had friends or family make any negative comments to me, fortunately, but I realize that many of them may think of me as a wet-blanket, feminist killjoy, politically correct, etc etc. I care a lot less than I used to.

    On the other hand, I am not really involved in any sort of outreach to Christian patriarchal folks at this point, and I doubt that I would be successful if I tried to because I am not a Christian any longer. So I have an easier time of it, at this point. It would be far too simplistic of me to brush this off with an airy “There’ll always be nay-sayers–those who care don’t matter”. It’s tough.

    Shortly before I left Christianity, I prayed very hard that God would do whatever necessary to make me able to help people get out of high-control environments like patriarchy. I had the rare and distinct impression that I heard a response. It was that I had to be willing to be ‘the bad guy’, to accept some of those negative labels that will invariably get attached to you.

    I hope you’re able to find a way that you’re comfortable with, and I’m sure it will vary with time and situation. But I for one am very glad and grateful when I see you and people like you sticking up for things that matter to you, no matter how trivial they might appear to someone else. Words do matter.

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  5. Elizabeth Erazo

    I’ve always found personal messages, as opposed to public, to be more fruitful. I think people automatically go on a higher defensive when they feel called out in public.

    Good for you for letting them know how you felt, especially about the police brutality joke. That’s so grossly inappropriate and ugly. I think it’s ok to be “that feminist”, especially when t flows naturally from being “that Christian”. That always been key to me — bringing it back to grace and love and Christ, not to politics or even equality.

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  6. Courtney

    I Totally hear you. As someone who has grown up in primarily Christian circles, I’ve noticed a strange apathy or outright hostility to issues like sexism or racism. From a logical perspective, I don’t see how people could flat out reject issues that affect God’s people. Nonetheless, I sometimes suspect that the opposition is more political than logical…

    Keep using your voice, because we need Christians who are concerned about the marginalized, especially when Christians are starting to have a very bad image in the world. You have an awesome blog and I encourage you to keep writing!

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